Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982

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Entertainment at the Bar, 1960/printed 2011 Digital Chromogenic Print, Courtesy Of Judith And Lawrence Schiller; Lawrence Schiller © Polaris Communications, Inc.
The Hockney Swimmer, 1978 C Type Print, Courtesy Of Michael Childers © Michael Childers
Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982

101 Museum Drive
Palm Springs, CA
January 21st, 2012 - May 27th, 2012
Opening: January 21st, 2012 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

palm springs
(760) 322-4800
Tue-Wed,Fri-Sun 10-5; Thu 12--8



As part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980 regional initiative, Backyard Oasis examines swimming pools in photographs from 1945 to 1982 as visual analogs of the ideals and expectations associated with Southern California. These images of individual water-based environs in the arid landscape are an integral part of the region’s identity, a microcosm of the hopes and disillusionments of the country’s post-World War II ethos. As a private setting, the backyard pool became a stage for sub-culture rituals and clandestine desires. As a medium, photography became the primary vehicle for embodying the polar emotions of consumer optimism and Cold War fears. Crossing the boundaries of popular and high culture, commercial merchandising, journalistic reporting, and vernacular memorabilia, photography conveyed the developing ideologies of the period. As such, its visual language forms a network of discursive topics that open onto each other, offering a rich study of physical and cultural geography. For the first time, this exhibition, its catalogue, and attendant programs trace the integrated histories of photography and the iconography of the swimming pool, bringing new light to aspects of this complex interaction. 

Backyard Oasis will contain approximately 135 framed works of archival photography and significant exhibition prints along with selected ephemera and film clips presented through DVDs on flat-screen monitors. The exhibition, organized by Senior Curator Daniell Cornell, will trace the development of art and cultural history within the following thematic groups: California Architecture and Design, Hollywood and Celebrity Culture, The Shape of Desire and Dreams, The Utopian-Dystopian Topos of Suburbia, and The Pacific Ocean as Context.


A two-day symposium was held Saturday and Sunday, November 20-21, 2010, in Palm Springs to present the mid-point research findings of the five-member research team. Panel sessions offered a forum to expand their findings through discussions with seven to ten additional experts in the related fields of modernist design, media, popular culture, and the visual and photographic arts. The symposium included an introductory address and keynote speech.


The exhibition’s accompanying publication will contain an introductory essay providing an overview of the development of the swimming pool and its attendant aesthetic and social culture. Authored by the exhibition’s organizing curator and its contributing research team members, the catalogue’s five chapters are: Exposed Desires: Poolside Reflections on Celebrity, Daniell Cornell, Senior Curator and Deputy Director for Art, Palm Springs Art Museum; Dystopia and the Swimming Pool, Dick Hebdige, Professor of Art, University of California, Santa Barbara; From Beefcake to Skatecake: Subcultures and Masculinity, Tyler Stallings, Director, Sweeny Art Gallery, University of California, Riverside; Designing Nature: The Pool in the Garden, Robert Stearns, Independent Curator and Project Coordinator, Palm Springs; Swimming Alone: The Backyard Pool in Cold War California, Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photographs, Huntington Library, San Marino.

The catalogue provides an opportunity to extend the exhibition’s content with additional images drawn from print and other media. It will contain approximately 250 pages and include 150-200 images in color and black and white.

Additional Programs

During the exhibition in 2012, additional lectures will be presented along with educational programs designed for K-12 and college and university audiences including a panel discussion January 21st. A film program will survey the wealth of popular and vanguard cinematic creativity engendered during the period.

Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 - 1980

Pacific Standard Time is a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California, coming together for six months beginning in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a major new force in the art world. Each institution will make its own contribution to this grand-scale story of artistic innovation and social change, told through a multitude of simultaneous exhibitions and programs. Exploring and celebrating the significance of the crucial post-World War II years through the tumultuous period of the 1960s and 70s, Pacific Standard Time encompasses developments from modernist architecture and design to multi-media installations; from L.A. Pop to post-minimalist; from the films of the African American L.A. Rebellion to the feminist happenings of the Woman’s Building; from ceramics to Chicano performance art; and from Japanese American design to the pioneering works of artists’ collectives.

Initiated through $10 million in grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time involves cultural institutions of every size and character across Southern California, from Greater Los Angeles to San Diego and Santa Barbara to Palm Springs.

Backyard Oasis is just one of the many exhibitions and events organized by Pacific Standard Time. To view the Pacific Standard Time web site, go to

Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982 is organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum. The exhibition and catalogue are funded through a lead grant from The Getty Foundation, with additional support provided by David Knaus, the James Irvine Foundation, the Architecture and Design Council, the Photography Collection Council, and Yvonne and Steve Maloney. The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is the official hotel sponsor of the exhibition.

To read the press release on this exhibition, click here.

For a list of media-approved images, click here.